Book Review: Origin, by Dan Brown

Details: Official site is http://danbrown.com/origin/

Score: 6/10

I never read The Da Vinci Code. So when I saw that Origin — the latest book in the series made famous by The Da Vinci Code — was on The New York Times Bestsellers list for over thirty weeks, I decided it was finally time to dip my toes into this series. What I found was a book that was difficult to sit through. Origin feels like a book that superficially name drops all the tech and science related headlines of recent memory and tells a boringly paced story with inartistic prose. I understand that a simplistically written story casts the widest net over an audience potentially lacking reading ability, but I just found most of this story a slog to get through.

Origin continues to center on the character of Robert Langdon, a genius scholar with an eidetic memory (kind of like a photographic memory but without the undesirable consequences). The author has described this character as being the kind of man he wishes he could be. Langdon is invited by his friend, a genius futurist who publicizes a great reveal that will potentially end all religion. That friend is murdered before he can give his presentation and Langdon must now solve this murder and reveal this secret to the masses.

The first thing that really bogged me down was the pacing. The story is essentially three parts. The first third is just setup and getting to the big party where the presentation is going to happen. The middle part is Langdon and a beautiful woman who is accompanying him trying to figure out the mystery behind the murder. The last third is mostly the reveal of the secret that supposedly will end religion.

Not much happens in each part. There is substantial posturing and odd sounding dialogue. A lot of it just sounds like dick measuring and superficial circumstances that only seek to establish that certain characters are badass. These portions of the story sound more like they were the fantasies of a bullied child rather than the demonstrations of a really strong character.

Much of the other parts of the books are discussions and musings about religion, technology, and science. These discussions are meant to seem like they have depth and meaningfulness and maybe they do seem that way to people who have never thought about these issues in depth before. To me, these conversations seemed shallow. Brown never goes deep enough. Instead of sounding meaningful, it just sounds like random name dropping of science related headlines for the purpose of fooling unknowledgeable readers into thinking there is actual depth in this story’s musings. iPhones, Uber, artifical intelligence, creationism versus evolution, etc., expect just random name brands to be dropped through out the story for no meaningful reason. The existential discussions in this book often times just sound silly.

As for the big secret, it’s not really all that ground shaking. In fact, most of the plot twists lack impact and I think that’s mostly because of the prose. Brown’s writing style does not do a good job of building up moments and creating tension. It doesn’t do a great job painting a picture of the world. On the other hand, the locations he uses are all real so you could just google what the actual settings look like. For me, that just feels like lazy writing. You should still describe places adequately. I feel like that’s one of the things that separate good authors from mediocre authors.

Overall, this book was a waste of time. It’s a clichéd story that’s been told by countless science fiction authors in times past. Reading this book reminded me of the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that is wildly successful but arguably written at a first grade level. Origin isn’t that bad, but it isn’t great. I’m still glad I read it so that I can now know that this series of books is not for me.

Score: 6/10

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